The whistler, p.33
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       The Whistler, p.33

           John Grisham
 

  it. I trained with the best, worked with the best, and kept up with the evolving technology. When Cooley found out that Claudia needed a new girl, he pushed me to apply for the job. When I got it, his master scheme fell into place because he suddenly had someone on the inside. Court reporters know everything, Lacy, and when I took the job I was already suspicious of Claudia. She had no idea and that made it easier. I noticed some things. Her wardrobe was expensive but she tried to conceal it. If she had a big day in court with a lot of people around, she would dress down. But, a slow day around the office and she would put on the fine things. She couldn’t help it; she loved designer stuff. Her jewelry was always changing, lots of diamonds and rubies, but I’m not sure anyone else noticed, especially in a place like Sterling, Florida. She spent a fortune on clothes and jewelry, more than you would expect from a person with her salary. She got a new secretary every other year because she didn’t want anyone to get too close. She was aloof, distant, always tough, but she never suspected me because I kept my distance. Or so she thought. One day we were in the middle of a trial and I snatched her key ring. Cooley ran by the courthouse and I gave it to him. He had a full replica made. After a frenzied search, she found the keys near a wastebasket and had no clue they’d been copied. Once Cooley had access to her office, he had a field day. He tapped her phones and paid a hacker to get into her computer. That’s how we got so much information. She was careful, especially when she dealt with Phyllis Turban. She used her desktop for official business and one laptop for personal. Then she had another laptop she used for a lot of the secret stuff. He didn’t tell Myers all of this, because, again, he was afraid that if something happened to Myers, then the entire operation would be compromised. He fed Myers just enough to convince him to convince you to start snooping around.” She took a long sip. They watched the water ripple where the fish were feeding.

  “The clothing and jewelry caught my attention, but when we realized she and Phyllis were jetting here and there—New York, New Orleans, the Caribbean—we knew there was a lot of money coming from somewhere. And all the jets were booked by Phyllis, nothing in Claudia’s name. Then we discovered an apartment in New Jersey, a home in Singapore, a villa in Barbados, I can’t remember everything. And it was all well hidden, or so they thought. But Cooley was watching.”

  “Why didn’t he go to the FBI and leave us out of it?”

  “They talked about it, but neither really trusted the Feds, especially Myers. In fact, he said he would not be involved if the FBI was involved. I think they screwed him when he got busted and he was afraid of them. Since the state police have no jurisdiction over the Indians, they finally settled on the plan to involve BJC. They knew you had limited powers, but the investigation had to start somewhere. There was no way to predict how it would unfold, but no one expected dead bodies.”

  Lacy’s phone vibrated beside her. Pacheco. She said, “I need to take this.”

  “Sure.”

  She walked back toward the cabin and softly said, “Yes.”

  “Where are you?”

  “Somewhere deep in the mountains of North Carolina. Gunther flew us up here and he’s standing guard, sort of.”

  “So he’s still involved?”

  “Oh yes. He’s been great.”

  “Look, the grand jury adjourned for the day. It will reconvene tomorrow. We have arrest warrants.”

  “When?”

  “We’re meeting now to decide. I’ll keep you posted.”

  “Be careful.”

  “Careful? This is the fun part. I think we’ll be up all night.”

  —

  At dusk, they built a fire in a stone pit by the lake and huddled under blankets in old wicker chairs. Gunther found a jug of red wine that Lacy deemed suitable for drinking. She drank a little, JoHelen even less. Gunther the teetotaler sipped decaf coffee and tended the fire.

  JoHelen wanted to hear the story of the awful crash and Hugo’s death, so Lacy gave her best version. Gunther wanted to know all about Cooley and his astonishing efforts at stalking McDover. JoHelen talked for an hour. Lacy wanted to know how her brother had survived three bankruptcies and was still in business, and Gunther’s war stories carried the evening. They dined on ham and cheese sandwiches, white bread of course, by the fire, and talked and laughed until late in the night.

  41

  The first arrests were gifts.

  Of the seven golf courses Vonn owned, his favorite was Rolling Dunes, an exclusive club in southernmost Brunswick County, with picturesque views of the Gulf and all the privacy a serious golfer could want. For a man wary of rituals, he did allow himself a weekly indulgence. Each Sunday morning at 8:00, he and his cronies gathered in the men’s grill in the Rolling Dunes clubhouse for breakfast and Bloody Marys. The mood was always lighthearted, free-spirited, even boisterous. For men in their sixties and seventies, it was playtime with no women around. They were about to spend five hours on a beautiful course, drinking beer, smoking fine cigars, gambling on every hole, cheating when possible, cursing at will, telling raunchy jokes, and doing it all without the interference of caddies or other golfers. Their tee time was always 9:00 a.m. and Vonn blocked out thirty minutes before and thirty minutes after. He hated a crowded course and once fired a starter on the spot when he had to wait five minutes for a sluggish foursome ahead of them.

  The Maton brothers, Vance and Floyd, bickered constantly and thus had to be separated. Vonn always played with Floyd. Ron Skinner always played with Vance. On Sunday, October 16, four of the five Cousins teed off at 9:00, oblivious to what awaited them. They were just starting their final round of golf.

  The fifth, Hank Skoley, dropped off his boss at the grill with plans to fetch him in five hours. Hank hated golf and usually spent his Sunday mornings by the pool with his wife and her small children. He was driving home, minding his business, driving sensibly and under the speed limit, when a Florida state trooper stopped him on Highway 98. He was less than courteous to the officer, and as he was claiming his innocence to any possible traffic offense he was informed that he was under arrest for murder. Minutes after being stopped, he was in the rear seat of a patrol car wearing tight handcuffs.

  Hole number four at Rolling Dunes was a long par 5 with a dogleg to the right. From the tee box, the green was not visible, and it was near the edge of the property, next to a public street that was shielded by trees and thick vegetation. From there, Allie Pacheco and his team watched and waited. When the two golf carts rattled their way along the cart path and stopped near a green-side bunker, the agents waited until Vonn, Floyd, Vance, and Ron walked onto the green with their putters. They were smoking cigars and laughing when a dozen men in dark suits materialized from nowhere and informed them the game was over. They were handcuffed on the green, led through the trees and vegetation, and whisked away. Their cell phones and wallets were confiscated, but their clubs, keys, and cold beers were left behind in the carts. Their putters, balls, and cigars lay scattered on the green.

  It would be half an hour before the next foursome arrived on the scene. The mystery of the missing golfers would baffle the club for twenty-four hours.

  The Cousins were placed in separate vehicles. Allie Pacheco rode in the rear seat with Vonn Dubose, who, after a few minutes of confinement, said, “This is a bitch. I was having a good round back there. One under after three holes.”

  “Glad you enjoyed it,” Allie said.

  “Mind telling me what this is all about?”

  “Capital murder.”

  “And who is the alleged victim?”

  “Too many to remember, right, Vonn? Hugo Hatch.”

  He took it calmly and did not say another word. True to their code, Hank Skoley, the Maton brothers, and Ron Skinner rode to jail in complete silence.

  —

  As soon as they were handcuffed and their cell phones taken, teams of FBI agents raided their homes and offices and began hauling away computers, phones, checkbooks, entire file cabinets, any
thing that might possibly yield evidence. The Matons and Ron Skinner ran seemingly legitimate offices with assistants and secretaries, but since it was Sunday there was no one around to witness the intrusions by the FBI. Hank Skoley kept his records in the basement of his home, and his terrified wife and kids watched as grim-faced agents loaded up a rental truck. Vonn Dubose kept nothing on his person or in his cottage that might implicate him in anything.

  After being fingerprinted and photographed, the freshly indicted defendants were placed in separate cells. Indeed, it would be months before any one of the five caught a glimpse of another.

  Vonn was offered a stale sandwich for lunch. He refused and was led to an interrogation room where Allie Pacheco and Doug Hahn were waiting. He said no to coffee and water and said he wanted a lawyer. Pacheco read him his Miranda rights, but he refused to sign the form acknowledging this. Again, he demanded a lawyer and the right to make a phone call.

  “This is not an interrogation, Jack,” Allie said coolly. “It’s just a chat, sort of a meet-and-greet session now that we know your real name. Fingerprints. We rammed ’em through and got a hit from your 1972 arrest for aggravated assault with intent to kill. Then you were Jack Henderson, part of a gang of good ole boys who ran drugs and whores and played the numbers. After you were convicted in Slidell, Louisiana, you decided prison was not for you, so you pulled a pretty slick escape. Ditched the old name, became Vonn Dubose, and for the past forty years have done a rather remarkable job of being the invisible man. But the party’s over, Jack.”

  “I want a lawyer.”

  “Sure, we’ll get you one, Jack, but not some slick talker you have in mind. Those guys cost a bundle and, as of nine o’clock in the morning, you’ll be as broke as your daddy was when he hanged himself in prison. All your bank accounts will be frozen, Jack. All that money tied up forever, untouchable.”

  “Get me a lawyer.”

  —

  Clyde Westbay was given the courtesy of a semiprivate arrest. Early Sunday morning he received a call from an FBI agent who informed him that the hour had arrived. Clyde told his wife there was a problem at the office and left the house. He drove to the empty parking lot of a shopping center and parked next to a black Chevy Tahoe. He put the car keys on the floorboard, got out, got handcuffed, and took a seat in the rear of the Tahoe. He had not told his wife what was about to happen to him. He simply did not have the guts.

  Using his office keys, two teams of FBI agents raided the offices at the hotels he managed for Starr S, the offshore company. On Monday, all guests would be asked to leave, and all reservations would be canceled. The hotels would be closed indefinitely.

  As the Cousins were finally allowed phone calls, word of the arrests soon leaked; then it spread like wildfire through the organization. To run or not to run—that was the panicked question the managers asked themselves. Before they could decide, most were under arrest while their offices were practically ransacked by the FBI.

  In Biloxi, a lawyer named Stavish was walking with his wife into a Catholic church for Sunday Mass when two agents stopped and announced a detour. Once it was made clear that he and his partner had been indicted for RICO violations, and that he was under arrest, he was given the choice of handing over the keys to their offices or having the FBI kick in the doors. Stavish kissed his wife good-bye, ignored the stunned looks from his fellow parishioners, and left in tears with the agents for his office.

  At Treasure Key, four agents found the manager on duty and informed him the casino was about to close. Make the announcement, get everybody out. Another agent phoned Chief Cappel and asked him to come to the casino. It was urgent. When he arrived twenty minutes later, he was urgently arrested. A squad of U.S. marshals helped herd the angry gamblers out of the building and into the parking lot. Those staying in the two hotels were told to immediately pack and leave. When Billy Cappel arrived in a rush, he too was arrested, along with Adam Horn and three casino managers. They left the marshals in charge of the chaos as gamblers, guests, and employees milled about, not wanting to leave but realizing that locks were being placed on all the doors.

  Around 3:00 p.m. on Sunday, Phyllis Turban was having iced tea on her veranda and reading a book. Her cell phone buzzed with an unknown number. She said hello, and an anonymous caller said, “You’ve been indicted along with your gal McDover and Vonn Dubose and about a hundred other crooks. The FBI is raiding offices all along the coast, and yours will be next.” Using a burner, but one known to the FBI, she immediately called Claudia, who had heard nothing. Claudia called her contact, Hank Skoley, but got no answer. Both ladies scanned the Internet for news, but saw nothing. Phyllis suggested they take a trip to be on the safe side, and called a charter company in Mobile. A jet was available and could be scrambled in two hours.

  As instructed, the charter company called the FBI. Agents followed Phyllis as she hurried to her secret office in a high-end suburban strip mall near the airport. She entered with nothing but keys in her hands, but exited with two bulky Prada bags. They tracked her as she drove to the general aviation terminal at the Mobile Regional Airport.

  The charter company informed the FBI that the client, a regular, wished to make a stop in Panama City to pick up one passenger, the ultimate destination being Barbados. The FBI, in conjunction with the FAA, instructed the charter company to proceed. At 4:50, the Lear 60 took off from Mobile for the twenty-minute flight to Panama City.

  Meanwhile, Judge McDover sprinted to her favorite condo in Rabbit Run, picked up a few items, stuffed them in a large handbag, and raced to the airport. She was there at 5:15 when the Lear taxied to a stop, and she hurriedly made her way to it. The captain greeted her, welcomed her aboard, then went inside the terminal for the required paperwork. After fifteen minutes, the co-captain informed Claudia and Phyllis that there was some weather over the Gulf and they would be delayed.

  “You can’t just go around it?” Phyllis barked.

  “Sorry.”

  Two black SUVs appeared from behind the jet and parked in front of its left wing. Claudia saw them first and mumbled, “Oh shit.”

  After the ladies were handcuffed and taken away, the agents searched the jet. The women had hardly bothered with clothing; instead, they had grabbed all the goodies they could carry. Diamonds, rubies, rare coins, and stacks of cash. Months later it would be inventoried and appraised at $4.2 million. When asked how they planned to get it by customs in Barbados, they did not reply.

  Even more loot was seized in raids at McDover’s Rabbit Run condo. When agents finally found her safe room, they were stunned at the cash, jewelry, art, rare books, rare watches, and antiquities. The raid on her home, on the other hand, yielded little in the way of valuable assets. In her office, the agents confiscated the usual list of computers, phones, and files. Phyllis Turban’s office computers were apparently not used for the dirty work. However, the two laptops in her secret office were filled with records of bank accounts, wire transfers, corporate records, real estate records, and correspondence to lawyers in countries famous for being tax havens.

  —

  The sweep along the Panhandle was broad and swift. By dusk Sunday, twenty-one men and two women were under arrest and facing a battery of racketeering charges that would only increase in the coming weeks. Included in that number was Delgado, who was pumping serious iron in a gym when two agents spoiled his day. On paper, he worked for a bar owned by a company owned by others, and he was charged with the usual money-laundering crimes. Years would pass before his more serious crimes came to light.

  42

  Cable news discovered the story around 6:00 Sunday evening and seemed unprepared for it. Since the crimes were unknown, as were the defendants, there was little coverage. That changed dramatically with two events: news of the closing of the casino, and the discovery by some unknown researcher of the term “Coast Mafia.” The latter was simply too sensational to ignore, and there were soon live reports from the locked gates of Treasure Key.
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br />   Lacy and JoHelen stared at the television with a fascination that bordered on disbelief. The conspiracy was destroyed. The syndicate was busted. The corruption was exposed. The criminals were in jail. The notion of justice was alive. It was overwhelming to even think that they had unleashed these startling events. So much had been lost along the way that it was difficult to feel a sense of pride, at least at that moment. When a “breaking story” interrupted another report, and the face of Judge Claudia McDover appeared on the screen, JoHelen put her hands over her mouth and started crying. The reporter gushed on about Judge McDover and her lawyer getting arrested on a private jet as they tried to flee the country. About half the details were right, but what the reporter lacked in veracity she made up for with enthusiasm.

  “Are those tears of joy?” Lacy asked.

  “Maybe. I don’t know right now. I’m certainly not sad. It’s just hard to believe.”

  “It really is. A few short months ago I’d never heard of those people and I don’t recall thinking much about the casino.”

  “When will it be okay to go home?”

  “Not sure. Let’s wait until I talk to the FBI.”

  Gunther had taken the Jeep to town in search of red meat and charcoal. He was on the porch now, with rib eyes on the grill and potatoes baking in the embers. He popped in occasionally to catch the latest, but by dark the same stories were being recycled. More than once he said, “Congratulations, girls, you’ve just brought down the most corrupt judge in American history. Cheers!”

  But they were in no mood to celebrate. JoHelen was almost certain she would keep her job, though the judge who replaced McDover would be free to hire a new court reporter. If she was thinking about her claim under the whistle-blower statute, she never mentioned it. At that moment, such a plan seemed too complicated and time-consuming; that, plus she’d lost her lawyer, the guy who was supposed to know how to navigate the statute.

  Before dinner, Lacy called Geismar and they compared notes. She
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